Saturday, October 22, 2016

Brain entropy said to explain consciousness

PhysicsWorld reports:
Consciousness appears to arise naturally as a result of a brain maximizing its information content. So says a group of scientists in Canada and France, which has studied how the electrical activity in people's brains varies according to individuals' conscious states. The researchers find that normal waking states are associated with maximum values of what they call a brain's "entropy". ...

The latest work stems from the observation that consciousness, or at least the proper functioning of brains, is associated not with high or even low degrees of synchronicity between neurons but by middling amounts. Jose Luis Perez Velazquez, a biochemist at the University of Toronto, and colleagues hypothesized that what is maximized during consciousness is not connectivity itself but the number of different ways that a certain degree of connectivity can be achieved.

Perez Velazquez's colleague Ramon Guevarra Erra, a physicist at the Paris Descartes University, points out that there is only one way to connect each set of neurons in a network with every other set, just as there is only one way to have no connections at all. In contrast, he notes, there are many different ways that an intermediate medium-sized number of connections can be arranged.

To put their hypothesis to the test, the researchers used data previously collected by Perez Velazquez showing electric- and magnetic-field emissions from the brains of nine people, seven of whom suffered from epilepsy. ...

Perez Velazquez and colleagues argue that consciousness could simply be an "emergent property" of a system – the brain – that seeks to maximize information exchange and therefore entropy, since doing so aids the survival of the brain's bearer by allowing them to better model their environment.
Maybe consciousness is an emergent property. Maybe it can be related to how neurons form connections. Maybe these researchers are on to something. But calling it brain entropy seems like a stretch.


  1. Is consciousness necessary? Does it appear at some level of intelligence and complexity? or is it possible to replicate human intelligence w/o consciousness? What is evolutionary advantage of consciousness? Perhaps consciousness is spandrel type of phenomenon.

  2. Anonymous,
    No, consciousness is not necessary... if you are a rock or any other inanimate object that exists without self awareness. You yourself can become an inanimate object yourself once you die. I am getting pretty sick of stupid articles using complexity or 'emergent property' to explain anything. That's like saying cars work because they are 'complex', or that they move by 'emergent properties', which is basically a 'complex' way of an overeducated idiot saying 'I really don't know how it works.' Using the word 'entropy' in conjunction with 'consciousness' was probably done to get the bullshit paper published.

    Saying that something "could simply be an "emergent property" of a system " when you have no idea how that 'system' actually works is utterly pathetic as an explanation, and is not science. I have a better theory, some jaded researchers wanted research grant money to prove that people are actually not really 'alive' at all, but delusional globs of cells clinging to the illusion of self awareness.

    I think it would cut to the chase to just say that overeducated nihilists trying to prove heat death is the cause of an illusion of self awareness is pure pathos...and yet somehow hilarious at the same time.

    1. We do not know what is consciousness. How to define it? But at the same time it is possible to imagine intelligence w/o self awareness. The question arises what consciousness is for? What evolutionary role does it play?

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  3. Thanks Roger. This is fascinating stuff, both in itself, and through suggested connections of consciousness with quantum mechanics.

    These include von Neumann's consciousness instigated wave function collapse, and more recently Many Minds and perhaps more pkasibly Roger Penrose's suggestion in his The Emperor's New Mind that because of quantum mechanics mental processes must be essentially nondeterministic.

    Von Neumann's proposal relied in part on the notion (fashionable in his day) of Psychophysical parallelism which held that mental and brain processes may be correlated but are not necessarily causally connected.

    The studies reported in Physics World seem consistent with the contrary view that consciousness is emergent from underlying physiological processes.

    Presumably there are not many out there who subscribe to the von Neumann view, or Many Minds, but Penrose seems to have a following.